“Where are the 10 Hairy Legs,” asked my seven-year-old grandson on Saturday, Jan. 30, at NJ Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), as he watched (with his siblings and cousins from Highland Park and a few grownups) a dance interpretation of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” I had told him that 10 Hairy Legs was a Highland Park-based dance troupe with all guys, thus the hairy legs – founded and led by longtime Highland Park resident Randy James, an associate professor of dance at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University. Mr. James and the six male dancers in the dance company (technically comprising 12 hairy legs, but I refused to bring mathematics into the equation) were responsible for the fabulously creative interpretation of the C.S. Lewis children’s classic.
“But there are girl dancers on stage,” countered my observant grandson. The magical production transported all of us into a fantastical dream world through the fluid and acrobatic movements choreographed by Mr. James. The production in fact did feature some amazingly talented female dancers. Monica Gonzalez, a New Jersey native who portrayed Lucy, stated that she saw Randy James’ original production of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” when she was eight years old. “The artistic qualities of professional dancers seemed like greater-than-life feats and would spur me to work harder than ever in my next dance class. To perform the role of Lucy now feels incredible,” said the alumna of the Mason Gross School for the Arts where she was mentored by Mr. James.
My nine-year-old granddaughter had read the book and recognized the Narnia woods, the heroine Lucy, her brother Edmund, the Faun Tumnus, the White Witch, the Wolf, the Angry Birds, Aslan The Lion, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, the Nymphs. She wondered about the absence of a “wardrobe,” while her cousin – even after my explanation – still inquired about the absence of the creature with 10 Hairy Legs.
The 10 Hair Legs story is as fascinating to me as the one written by C. S. Lewis. The 57-year-old Mr. James, who grew up in East Brunswick and was born at St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, has been a member of the dance faculty at Mason Gross School of the Arts since 1998. In that same year he created a dance interpretation of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” for his former dance company, a male and female troupe known as Randy James Dance Works, which existed from 1993 until 2009.
But the concept of an all male dance troupe – one that would celebrate the range of the male dancer – had been germinating in the creative mind of Randy James his “entire life. I can say that 10 Hairy Legs, founded in 2012, was 54 years in the making – an accumulation of everything I have ever done in my life.” The current production of “The Lion…” is a different creature from the production I created 18 years ago,” because of that creation known as 10 Hairy Legs, he said.
10 Hairy Legs(10 HL) Dance Company performs Randy James’ work, as well as existing and newly commissioned works. 10 HL reflects no specific point of view about the male experience, but rather celebrates and explores the tremendous technical and emotional range of the male dancer. In 2015 10 Hairy Legs launched 10 HL Projects, which includes women for specific productions outside of the all male company. The first of these projects is Randy James’ new interpretation of C. S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
Randy James, as founding artistic director of 10 Hairy Legs, has made a significant impact in the field of dance for more than three decades locally regionally, nationally and internationally. He is highly regarded dancer, choreographer, teacher, guest lecturer, panelist, and staunch advocate of the arts. The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation in 2010 labeled him “The Patron Saint of New Jersey Dance.”
As a choreographer, Mr. James has created more than 40 works on his own companies and on 16 other professional companies throughout the United States and has won critical acclaim in The New York Times and The Village Voice. The New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State honored him three times with Choreography Fellowships in recognition of his artistic excellence and named him “Distinguished Teaching Artist.”
Ms. Gonzalez described her love of “The Lion” and the character Lucy in terms of curiosity, adventures, and collaboration with and support from others. That commentary could be a metaphor for the success of 10 Hairy Legs and Mr. James himself.
“What I like about ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’ story, particularly as the character of Lucy, is how curiosity leads her to all sorts of adventures. If I had stumbled upon a new world such as Narnia, I would be delighted, just as she is. Additionally, many of the characters that the children meet are immediately ready to help them out…and in this way, a strong sense of community is built. They all work together towards the goal of defeating the White Witch, and they are successful. But none of them could have done it alone, of course!”
Anyone who missed the NJPAC production will have an opportunity to get captivated by Narnia and all of its characters, when 10 HL Projects again presents “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” Saturday, April 2, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Centenary Stage at Centenary College, 400 Jefferson Street, Hackettstown, NJ (Box Office: 908-979-0900). www.10HL.org